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How to advocate for nuclear energy this Thanksgiving

By John Gorman, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association

Many of us have learned the hard way that it’s best to stay away from controversial topics at the holiday dinner table.

Avoiding a heated discussion at a family get-together this Canadian Thanksgiving may be difficult, though, with a federal election underway. And thanks to the recent nationwide climate marches inspired by the young climate activist Greta Thunberg, discussions of political partisanship and the environment are likely on the menu.

Fortunately, nuclear energy is increasingly being seen by both sides of the political spectrum as a needed clean energy source.

If the topic of climate change does come up, here’s how you can talk about nuclear’s role in saving the planet without causing a food fight to break out.

The starting point is important. The general public shows a great deal of confusion about nuclear energy compared to other energy sources. Polling by Abacus Data for the CNA released earlier this year revealed that only 38 per cent of respondents are aware that nuclear produces less carbon than oil.

However, the polling also found that climate change concerns can open minds to nuclear.

“When informed that nuclear power emissions are similar to solar, wind and hydro, and asked how they felt about the idea of using nuclear in situations where it could replace higher emitting fuels, a large majority (84%) say they are open (35%) to or supportive (49%) of this,” the poll found.

Assuming your family and friends are representative of the Canadian population you will have opened at least a few minds to the potential of nuclear energy. The trick is to stay out of the weeds while delivering the message that nuclear power generation is carbon-free and helps fight climate change.

Simple facts about nuclear can be effective as well. For example, the fact that nuclear energy produces 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity is something a general audience that does not work in energy sector probably doesn’t know.

If you bring up nuclear in a social setting in 2019, you can also expect the HBO series Chernobyl will come up.

The CNA has written a fact sheet to clear up misconceptions about the miniseries. The key point is that because of different reactor types, it is almost impossible that an accident like the one at Chernobyl could happen at a nuclear plant found in Canada or the U.S. today.

Most importantly, if you’re going to talk nuclear at the table, remember to listen to what others at the table have to say. Communication is a two-way street and others may have different opinions, especially when it comes to nuclear. Listen to their thoughts and concerns before sharing your point of view.

Bon appétit!

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IEA report stresses need for maintaining nuclear

The world will have an almost impossible task of meeting climate targets if nuclear energy is not increased.

IEA Director Fatih Birol.

That’s the conclusion of a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that was released at the 10th Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver in May.

In its report, “Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System,” the IEA said if governments don’t change their current policies, advanced economies will be on track to lose two-thirds of their current nuclear fleet, risking a huge increase in CO2 emissions.

“Without action to provide more support for nuclear power, global efforts to transition to a cleaner energy system will become drastically harder and more costly,” IEA Director Fatih Birol said.

“Wind and solar energy need to play a much greater role in order for countries to meet sustainability goals, but it is extremely difficult to envisage them doing so without help from nuclear power.”

The report made eight policy recommendations to governments, including authorizing lifetime extensions if safe for current plants, supporting new build and supporting innovative designs, such as small modular reactors.

The IEA estimates that it would cost approximately $1.6 trillion between 2018 and 2040 in additional investment to replace existing nuclear with renewable energy, supporting technologies and infrastructure. That works out to $80 billion higher per year on average for advanced economies.

The study also notes the past contribution of nuclear energy to the climate.

“Globally, nuclear power output avoided 63 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) from 1971 to 2018,” the IEA noted. “Without nuclear power, emissions from electricity generation would have been almost 20% higher, and total energy-related emissions 6% higher, over that period. Without nuclear power, emissions from electricity generation would have been 25% higher in Japan, 45% higher in Korea and over 50% higher in Canada over the period 1971-2018.”

The IEA understands the best path to decarbonization, but currently, many people in the clean energy space believe in a single solution.

We need all available tools and technologies to reduce emissions. And they must complement each other and work together in an integrated clean energy system. That system should include nuclear.

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How to get millennials aboard the nuclear bandwagon

A recent poll by Abacus Data found Millennials are especially open to using nuclear to combat climate change once informed that it is a low-carbon energy source.

The poll found there is growing evidence that the millennial generation evaluates and supports innovative technologies more strongly when they are seen to bring real solutions to society’s challenges. First and foremost, among the solutions is whether it can significantly reduce GHG emissions and help decarbonize our energy supply.

To measure how familiar people are with the carbon impact of nuclear energy, Abacus asked whether certain energy sources had greater, equal or lesser impact than oil. The results revealed that only 38 per cent of Canadians were aware that nuclear is a lower carbon form of energy compared to oil.

When informed that nuclear power emissions are similar to solar, wind and hydro, and asked how they felt about the idea of using nuclear in situations where it could replace higher emitting fuels, a large majority (84 per cent) said they are supportive or open to this.

The findings were more pronounced for young people. Eighty-nine per cent of those 18-to-29 supported or were open to using nuclear in this scenario, compared to 83 per cent of the overall population. The poll also found that 86 per cent of those 18-to-29 supported or were open to small modular reactors (SMRs) as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Climate change seems to be driving young people looking for solutions to replace fossil fuels.

Young people were the most concerned about climate change. Sixty-two per cent of those 18-to-29 said they were extremely or very concerned about the issue, compared with 54 per cent overall.

Those 18-to-29 were also more likely to say a shift from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources was extremely or very important – 69 per cent, compared with 58 per cent for the general population.

“These results make clear that for many people, the issue of climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions, means being open to potential new roles for nuclear technology,” explained Abacus Chair Bruce Anderson. “To date, many people are unaware of the carbon-reducing contribution that nuclear can offer, and the data indicate that when informed about the facts, there is broad interest in exploring potential trials in a regulated context.”

The survey was conducted online for the Canadian Nuclear Association with 2,500 Canadians aged 18 and over from February 8 to 12, 2019. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 1.9%, 19 times out of 20.

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ONA response to Guelph Mercury opinion piece

Re Energy in Ontario: Where do we go from here? (September 13)

While the author applauds the Ontario government for taking a step in the right direction by eliminating coal, the article is light on the recognition of nuclear’s critical role in this initiative and its role in Canada and Ontario’s clean energy future.

On April 15, 2014, Ontario burned its last piece of coal, marking a transformational day for the province as it becomes the first coal-free jurisdiction in North America.

Closing coal-fired power plants represents one of the largest greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in North America. The closure has eliminated more than 30 megatonnes of annual GHG emissions, equivalent to taking seven million vehicles off our roads.

This transformational change in Ontario was accomplished through the strength of Ontario’s nuclear sector which provided 90 percent of the incremental electricity needed to phase out coal.

Thankfully, today, the people of Ontario have cleaner air from cleaner energy.

Ontario’s nuclear advantage was critical in helping Ontario achieve this policy objective. Today, Nuclear power continues to play a critical role in meeting the energy and air quality needs of the province, accounting for roughly 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity supply annually.

Due to Ontario’s nuclear strength over the past decade, greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario’s electricity sector have been reduced by more than 80 per cent. Over 95 per cent of electricity generated in Ontario comes from non-greenhouse gas emitting resources.

The coal phase-out was realized on the back of Ontario’s nuclear sector and the benefits extend far beyond those mentioned in the article. According to a 2005 Ministry of Energy report, phasing out coal avoids 25,000 emergency room visits, 20,000 hospital admissions, 8.1 million minor illness cases and provides a financial benefit of $2.6 billion annually or $70 billion through 2040.

With such a reliable supply of carbon-free energy being provided by Ontario’s nuclear fleet, the future is bright for the health of Ontario residents. Serving as an example, Ontario undertook a multi-year effort that decreased the average Ontarian’s environmental footprint that resulted in a financial benefit to the province and represents a model for the rest of Canada.

Decisions made on the energy fuel source must balance both the needs of today and future generations, without ignoring the correlation between air emissions, climate and human health.

The role of nuclear power in Canada goes far beyond being a clean and reliable source of energy. It has an important role to play in medicine, food safety, research and innovation and supports thousands of long- term, high-tech and well-paid jobs.

Leveraging Ontario’s nuclear advantage supports both our economy and the global transition to a low-carbon future. Thanks to the success of Ontario’s coal phase-out, we are not starting from zero but are already leaders. We must continue to build on this success by ensuring our investments in these key areas of our energy infrastructure reach their full potential for Ontario and for Canada.

Taylor McKenna
Ontario’s Nuclear Advantage
Toronto, ON

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New Brunswick environmentalist does a 180, now supports nuclear

Saint John, New Brunswick

The growing movement of environmentalists supporting nuclear came to Canada in March.

CBC News reported that New Brunswick environmentalist Gordon Dalzell has dropped his opposition to nuclear power and now sees its role in the fight against climate change.

“The world is really at a disastrous tipping point and we need to really seriously consider nuclear power as a viable option, because we know how serious it is,” said Dalzell, who CBC described as Saint John, New Brunswick’s “best known environmentalist.”

Dalzell told CBC News he no longer believes energy efficiency, wind and solar alone can contain the growth of emissions as developing countries rise out of energy poverty.

In other countries, a large number of prominent environmentalists have come over to the pro-nuclear side due to the urgency of tackling climate change. This includes people like former California gubernatorial candidate Michael Shellenberger, author Gwyneth Cravens, Kirsty Gogan, executive director of Energy For Humanity, Ben Heard, director of Bright New World, and Carol Browner, former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.

In Canada, fewer environmentalists have joined the pro-nuclear movement, which begs the question why?

Is it a refusal to recognize the benefits of nuclear energy, which includes a large amount of power with a small environmental footprint, safer new technologies and, most importantly, carbon-free electricity generation that addresses climate change?

Environmentalists have interpreted a recent United Nations report as suggesting that there is only a 12-year window for governments to take action and avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.

“We do not have much time,” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May recently stated. “If we miss the goal of reducing emissions globally by 45 per cent in 12 years, that one last chance is lost. Forever.”

Assuming we only have 12 years left, then why can’t more people in the environmental movement have open minds about nuclear? They don’t have to necessarily be supportive, just be open to viewing it as one of the tools, along with all other clean energy technologies, available to tackle climate change.

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World nuclear output reached new high in 2018

The latest International Energy Agency (IEA) numbers are out and nuclear power continued to grow in 2018, despite concerns about reactor closures in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In its March “Global Energy & CO2 Status Report,” the IEA said overall global energy consumption grew by 2.3 per cent due to “a robust global economy as well as higher heating and cooling needs in some parts of the world.”

The increase in energy consumption meant CO2 emissions rose 1.7 per cent last year, a new record high.

Gas accounted for 47 per cent of the new energy growth and nuclear represented seven per cent of new growth.

The growth in nuclear was based largely on new capacity in China and the restart of four reactors in Japan, according to the IEA.

In related news, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that nuclear output reached a peak in 2018, surpassing the previous peak set in 2010.

This happened despite the fact that seven reactors have been taken out of service since 2010 and only one new reactor has been added to the grid. The increase was due to reactor upgrades that improved efficiency and reactors shortening the time they are out of operation for maintenance.The IEA has been more vocal in recent months about the importance of nuclear energy.

In February, the IEA held a workshop on the role of nuclear power in the clean energy system, which will lead to a report on the issue, and IEA Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol spoke on the margins of the Canadian Nuclear Association’s annual conference in Ottawa.

“Nuclear energy plays an important role in both energy security and sustainability in today’s energy mix,” Birol said at a recent IEA workshop.

“However, without appropriate policy attention, its contribution will shrink, creating challenges for meeting our energy policy goals in the future. As an all-fuels and all-technologies organization, the IEA monitors the development of nuclear energy and its potential role in the clean energy transitions.”

The IEA has an important role in making policymakers understand the scope of the challenge the world faces in providing clean and reliable electricity as transportation electrifies and more and more people in the developing world become electricity consumers.

Governments need to act pragmatically and, like the IEA, realize the role all technologies can play in the energy system of the future.